The Swedish capital has been struck by the number of children affected by so-called long-term COVID; symptoms include fatigue and a recurrent sore throat, headache and nausea, as well as difficulty concentrating and memory gaps.
While children are generally thought to be more resilient to the coronavirus than adults and especially the elderly, the number of young patients referred to the specialist clinic at the Astrid Lindgren Hospital in Stockholm has exceeded original expectations and keeps growing. Some of the children have been sick for about a year, national broadcaster SVT reported.
A total of 214 diagnoses of long-term COVID have been made in the Stockholm area alone; their average age is 11-13. According to Thomas Lindén of the National Board of Health and Welfare, there is no legal opportunity to collect data from primary care, which is why the national picture on that matter remains unclear at the moment. In the absence of complete national statistics, however, this figure is seen as a warning.
“Some of them continue to go to school, some are completely bedridden,” said Malin Ryd Rinder, chief physician at the specialist clinic for long-term sick children in Stockholm.
Yet another problem is the absence of guidelines for how the children should be treated, so the Astrid Lindgren hospital works broadly. The team that handles long-term COVID in children includes a psychologist, a physiotherapist, a cardiologist, a pulmonologist and a neurologist.
“This may end up a bit overshadowed by adult healthcare and adult COVID, as the volumes are relatively small compared to adult healthcare. Nevertheless, it is important that we get resources for these children,” chief physician Malin Ryd Rinder told SVT.
While more data is needed to improve the situation, no research is currently being carried out at the moment at the Astrid Lindgren Hospital due to the urgency of care.
“We thought it was important that the children received clinical care. That is why we opened,” Malin Ryd Rinder said of the specialist clinic.
To address the situation, the Swedish government recently decided to invest SEK 50 million ($6 million) in research on this issue.
According to a recent study conducted in collaboration between the Swedish Intensive Care Registry and the Swedish Child Rheumatism Registry, only 15 children had been treated for COVID in intensive care between 1 March and 30 June 2020, which was seen as indicative of the fact that children generally fare better than adults.
“Despite the fact that Sweden has kept schools and preschools open, we found a low incidence of severe COVID-19 among preschool children and school children in primary school,” Lars Engerström, researcher and chief physician at the anaesthesia and intensive care clinic at Vrinnevis Hospital, told SVT.
Nationwide, Sweden has seen over 608,000 cases of Covid, with nearly 12,500 deaths, the highest count in Scandinavia. The country's maskless and lockdown-free approach has long been an object of criticism among neighbours, yet remains largely popular at home, despite calls for tougher measures.